Je ne suis pas Charlie

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Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

– Charlie est une partie du problème

(I am not Charlie – as Charlie is part of the problem)

(Link To Page With Travel Advice For Paris/France and Verviers/ Belgium) 

The ‘Unity’ marches held across France on January 11th 2015 were reported worldwide by media organisations as being a nation’s expression of the right of its journalists and citizens to free speech, even if the language or visual mediums used are offensive. The authors of these works (who describe themselves as ‘libertarians’) believe that these dialogues are acceptable in a society where, it is claimed, individuals are free to express their political views even if doing so risks inciting civil or racial violence.

The principles behind this ideology were hyped up by countless media organisations and supported by over 40 world leaders who joined the march. The question as to why some of these countries were actually there, given their own civil rights records, was buried in the emotion of the moment, as critics and the criticised sang from the same hymn book.

Whether all of this chorus of support would have been welcomed by Charlie Hebdo is questionable. After all, Russian media which is almost entirely state-controlled, and the Russian involvement in the annexation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, are not illustrations of the stereotypical values of libertarianism. Also present were African leaders from states like the Gabonese Republic, where imprisonment awaits any journalist who opposes the government. Some of the representatives from the Arab world were equally surprising, the most bizarre, given Charlie Hebdo’s intolerance of religion, being the Saudis who three days earlier gave one of their nationals 1,000 lashes for blasphemy.

The sincerity of these endorsements fades even further if you add to this list those leaders who gained power without reference to the ballot box, and those whose presence was a political manoeuvre to impress their electorates.

The agendas of politicians and the nature of the democracies in the countries they represent aside, no one with any compassion or humanity can condone or justify political assassinations or terrorism. These acts kill or injure innocent civilians, and as those targeted invariably become more intransigent, it ‘ups the ante’ even more. This is divisive and it often marginalises the marginalised even further. These components, taken together, are a recipe for anarchy, which is not a foundation for reconciling the grievances of either party or for ending the on-going conflict.

In Europe since the end of World War Two there have been several such on-going conflicts including those of the Red Brigade in Italy, the Red Army Faction (Baader Meinhof) in West Germany, the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army in the United Kingdom and the Basque National Liberation Movement (ETA) in Spain. Each of these conflicts were enduring and were resolved in different ways within the borders of each country. The present terrorist threats cannot be resolved on a national basis as they are sourced globally – this was highlighted by the international dimensions of the 9/11 attacks.

Following 9/11, the US and its British and European allies embarked  on a ‘War on Terror’ which included the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. It also included the rendition of CIA prisoners arrested across the world who were flown to secret prisons where some were tortured, while 779 men were detained without trial in Guantanamo Bay. The targets ranged from individuals to groups but the common denominator in these exercises was that the ‘targets’ were mostly Muslims.

In Western societies, these events resulted in many Muslims being viewed with suspicion and marginalised, even though many of those detained were later cleared of any involvement in terrorism. Underpinning this marginalisation, from some Muslims’ perspective, is the 66 year-old

Palestinian problem, which many believe remains unresolved despite a perception of the power of the US to persuade Israel to ameliorate its’ attitude to Gaza and the West Bank.

Unless they were living on another planet, the staff of Charlie Hebdo would have known that factors like these, and other ‘local’ issues, will in part have influenced the decision of a very small minority of young Muslims to join or actively sympathise with terrorist groups worldwide, including Al Qaeda and more recently, ISIS. These cross-border links are thought to be factors in incidents like the Madrid, London and Paris bombings.

Charlie Hebdo, who had for several years shown disdain for the religious authorities of several denominations, believe that the religious affiliations of these terrorists were grounds to attack the Muslim faith. They decided that this objective would be best served if they did not make the distinction between a minority of extremists and the Muslim faith as a whole. This was a conscious decision to misrepresent the truth by Charlie Hebdo and was confirmed in the subsequent editorial which repeatedly inferred that terrorism and violence was engineered by the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

When criticised for attacking the Muslim faith, Charlie Hebdo cited the fact that it had not singled out Muslims as it was openly critical of religious organisations of all denominations. According to the magazine these criticisms were justified on the grounds of the liberty of individuals and the need for a free press. Whilst free speech, including ‘satire’ has a role to play in democracy, journalists and the media have a responsibility to the society within which they are fortunate enough to function. This should not include misrepresenting the truth, and putting the welfare and physical safety of their country’s citizens above the political and commercial interests of their own platform. Charlie Hebdo failed this litmus test, because it was aware that there was a risk of social unrest, as France is  home to the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe. It also ignored the fact that the Madrid bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 had shown that Europe was vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

In 2006 Charlie Hebdo reprinted 12 cartoons, previously published in the Danish publication Jyllands-Postens, which included mocking depictions of the Prophet Mohammed and references to Islam. It published these cartoons knowing that they had caused offence to Muslims worldwide and had sparked riots in several countries, particularly in Nigeria where over 100 people were killed in religious  violence. Over successive years Charlie Hebdo has continued to promote its agenda by regularly publishing material against the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. In 2011 the magazine published a spoof edition which, it claimed, was guest-edited by the Prophet Muhammad. This edition had a cover featuring a demeaning caricature of the prophet and a caption saying ‘100 lashes if you don’t die laughing’. Within days the Charlie Hebdo offices were fire-bombed. Less than a year later it published two cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad – one of him naked and one of him in a wheelchair.

Charlie Hebdo’s attitude and its tendency to tarnish all Muslims with the same brush was widely criticised by French politicians. It was also threatened with violence on many occasions. However the magazine continued in the same vein, arguing that they had a right to so do, as a free press was an integral part of French democracy even if some people found it offensive.

The rationale behind this democratic stance is very questionable. Some of Charlie Hebdo’s critics believe that its policy was deliberately negative and prejudiced because publishing the ‘distasteful’ and the ‘unacceptable’ would increase its circulation. It did not have a wide readership (which some commentators believe was because it was intellectually wanting); it was only selling around 30.000 copies weekly and was close to bankruptcy. More sinister is that it is also possible that the reason for the magazine’s apparent contempt for the Muslim faith and other religions, was that it subscribed to the view of the French writer and philosopher Voltaire, who, aside from having a reputation for his dislike of religious bodies, famously wrote that ‘to hold a pen is to be at war’.

That said, and whatever its agenda, Charlie Hebdo must have been aware that the lives of innocent people would be at risk if it itself was attacked, be they in neighbouring businesses, passers by, or the police and security services assigned to protect them. Even though human life is sacred they ignored these risks and continued to publish their ‘agent provocateur’ editorials, on the premise that the principles of liberty and the freedom of the press set a greater precedent. There were no grounds for applying such a precedent – this was not Watergate, and the substance of their editorials, which inferred that the Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic religion as a whole, were a lie, Even seasoned pragmatists would be hard pressed to see what contribution Charlie Hebdo has made to French democracy or French society. Contrastingly, it can be argued that the libertarian values it claims to uphold have been abused and undermined by the magazine’s persistent promotion of Muslim and other faiths in a divisive or provocative light.

These provocations have added fuel to a dangerous fire which is of no benefit to anyone in France, Europe or the rest of the world, whatever their faith. A more serious concern is that, a week after the attack on their offices, Charlie Hebdo published another [?] ‘survival’ edition containing similar material and intended for readership worldwide. As it was printed in 6 languages including Arabic and English, with a total print-run of 5 million copies, some people will wonder how many people might be minded toward extremism having read it.

Whilst no society should have to endure terrorism, its defeat, or the reconciliation of the reasons for it, will not be aided by self-promoting  media outlets who believe their agenda is more important than the safety and values of the society they claim in part to represent. Charlie Hebdo is one such publication – and as it knows from its own experience – the consequences of such mindsets make it and other publications totally irresponsible.

Charlie Hebdo, which once described black people  as ‘niggers’, is a total disgrace and it is questionable whether it will be tolerated, let alone viable, when the enduring French Revolution finally ends. In the meanwhile – je ne suis pas Charlie.

 

 

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